If you want to become a better writer in the modern age, then you need to understand how Google works. That’s really all there is to it.
Because no matter how pretty your writing is our how gut-wrenching the story, if nobody can find it, then nobody will read it.
And understanding Google will help you understand how to get found.
While nobody can truly understand Google in its entirety, there are some basic concepts that every writer absolutely, positively, without a doubt, fill-in-the-exaggeration-here must know.
If you understand these concepts, then you’ll be better equipped to write content that ranks.
Don’t worry, my next post will outline some actionable tips for optimizing your content so that it ranks on Google. But for now, let’s go over the basics.
A Note About How Google Works
Believe it or not, Google is actually a tangible thing that you can touch with your hands.
I know, it seems like Google is basically an unknown entity that watches everything you do, but it is an actual thing that is stored in many data centers all over the world.
When something is stored there, it is ‘indexed’. And if you want to rank on Google, then you gotta be indexed.
The way that Google indexes your content is by crawling your website. Your website is crawled by Google bots, which are often compared to spiders crawling a web.
So when you’re ‘optimizing’ content, you’re really just spinning a really pretty web for the Google bots to crawl. And if the bots like what they find, they take it back to their data centers and store it.
The more that these bots store, the more readily Google can recommend your content when people are searching for stuff that you offer.
I mean, this is a really simplified explanation but if you can remember to think of Google this way, then you can create content that facilitates this process…
…and makes your site rank.
3 Basic SEO Ranking Factors
Before we dive into actionable tips on how to optimize your writing, it’s important that you understand a few things about how Google’s algorithm works.
And I know that there are other search engines (or so they say) but I’m focusing on Google because, well, that’s where the money is at and homegirl likes her dolla bills.
When it comes to Google’s algorithm, there are tons of moving parts. In fact, the algorithm is so good at what it does that it knows what you want before you do. It knows where you’ve been and where you’ll go next; it knows what you’re most likely to click on and how long you will spend on a page; it knows everything about you.
The algorithm is so good that the entire SEO industry is made up of people trying to understand the algorithm.
So I don’t want to lead you to believe that you will understand the algorithm just by reading this post. That’s not what this is about.
This is about understanding the very basics of the algorithm so that you can make better, informed decisions about how you create content.
1. Good Content
Good content should be written for:
- the person reading it
- Google’s bots
So first and foremost, you need to write something that people will actually want to read and that will keep them on the page reading it.
Because some of the things that Google looks for when deciding which content to rank includes
- the amount of time a person spends on the page after finding you on Google (the longer the better)
- how many people are clicking on your post from Google (as measured by CTR, click-through-rate)
- whether or not people continue exploring your site or leave to go find a better post
So even though as an SEO I’m mostly writing for Google, I’m still first writing for the person. And if you follow the basics in my list below, then you’ll have Google covered.
Some of my favorite resources about how to write engaging content are:
- 7 Tips for Making Dull Blog Topics Interesting, According to Our Blog Team
- How to Write a Blog Post in 2020: The Ultimate Guide
- How to Write an Introduction That’ll Spellbind Readers in 2020
- A 3-Step Formula for Captivating Your Audience With a Few Opening Lines
- 51 Headline Formulas To Skyrocket Conversions (And Where To Use Them)
2. Organized Internal Links
Internal links are basically any link you put inside of your post that points to another page on your website.
For example, this is an internal link to my post about 10 grammar rules to improve your writing.
They work kinda like highways within your website. Each internal link tells the Google bots where to go next once they come to your site, showing the bots which pages are the most important on your website.
And when you have no internal links, then the bots just arrive at a single page, look around, and then bounce.
But if you want Google to know what your site is about, which pages are important, and how to get to them, then you must include internal links.
It’s kinda like coming to a new city and following the directions on your phone. If you’ve got wifi or data, then the directions will be super clear and easy.
If you don’t, however, then you’re left trying to make sense out of the direction you’re facing, which streets are parallel and which are curved, where the dead ends are, and what areas to avoid.
Without crystal clear directions, you could end up in danger, at worst, or just super frustrated and lost, at best.
And when the Google bots are frustrated and lost, they tend to not come back to your site for a long while because of the PTSD your lack of internal linking caused.
If you want more details about how to use internal links in a meaningful way, then I recommend reading through these posts:
- Internal Links for SEO: An Actionable Guide
- Internal Links: A Guide to Building a Strategy that Works
Ugh, I don’t want to talk about backlinks because they are my least favorite part of being an SEO but the truth is that they do impact rankings.
Backlinks are links that come from other websites that point to your website. When you’re including them on your page, pointing to another page, it’s called an external link. But when someone else has an external link that points to your page, then it’s a backlink (for you).
This is an external link about the concept of backlinks and will count as a backlink for Moz.
Backlinks kinda work like a popularity contest. They’re like little virtual votes about which content is the best and the more votes you have, the better.
Well, the more votes you have from law-abiding citizens, the better.
You see, once scummy SEOs figured out that backlinks helped improve rankings, they started creating these weird blog networks that would sell links to anyone and everyone for the primary purpose of helping websites rank.
When Google found out—and Google always finds out—it made a few tweaks to its algorithm that would ignore spammy backlinks like this.
There are a million different strategies for getting backlinks and all of them require a lot of time and effort.
But honestly, I’ve had bigger impacts on the websites I work on strictly by focusing on on-page SEO (ie good content) and internal links than I’ve had with backlinks. So don’t stress about it too much right now. Just know that they matter.
Okay, this is enough for right now. If you understand Google, then you’ll be able to understand the importance of optimization.
And you’ll notice that I didn’t mention keywords once throughout this entire thing. That’s because keywords don’t make you rank. They guide your content strategy, but keywords in and of themselves do not make you rank.
I’ll write more about keywords another time, but if you want to read about keyword research right-this-very-minute, then check out my post on how to do keyword research.
But I’m a freelance SEO so I’ve got to get to work on some of my paying clients right now. Next, I’ll write about 10 easy tips for optimizing any content so that you can start improving your content today.
Until then, let me know if you have any questions or would like some recommendations on what to read in the meantime. SEO is my jam and I love talking about it, so consider that door always open.